Clash of Concepts

November 20 – Powder

My grandma wore face powder and lipstick every day until her later years when she was less able to get “all dolled up,” as she called it.

Grandma was wild and a flirt her whole life, even into her 80s and 90s. In fact, she had some inappropriate advice for the grandkids: “Find ’em, fool ’em, f*ck ’em and forget ’em.” About sex, she always said, “If God had made anything better, he would have kept it for himself.” Yeah, she was quite the lady.

Grandma didn’t keep her opinions to herself and when she spouted them, you had to look twice because she sounded like a sailor who forgot his manners. She was never politically correct either.

But I loved my grandma dearly.

I remember watching her “put on her face”—how she flipped open her pressed-powder compact and rubbed the sponge across her face to even out the skin tones. Just like me, Grandma had vitiligo—an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s body to attack her skin, leaving stark white patches and ever-receding pigment until the white spots conjoin and resemble albinism.

When my vitiligo grew worse, I, too, tried to use powder to blend my skin tones, but I was fighting a losing battle. So now, I simply use mascara to color my white lashes—also victims of vitiligo—and people will just have to come to terms with my mottled skin.

I’m often surprised when I see people stare at me, because I forget what I look like. Adults can be rude, but children often just want to know if it hurts. I will explain that it doesn’t, and even let them touch me to see that my skin doesn’t feel differently than theirs.

The most bizarre encounter I ever had, though, was early in the disease when white patches formed on my knuckles.

“Oh, wow! Did you get burned?”

“No, I have vitiligo.”

“Are you sure you weren’t burned?”

Grandma never seemed to let the vitiligo bother her, so I try to emulate that. But when one of your own children starts getting white patches, that’s a different story—one filtered with some of Grandma’s spicy language.

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